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The Im/Possible Host/Guest: Hospitality in A Passage to India

By Chin-yuan Hu


Travel is an act of border-crossing. The traveller crosses the geographical/cultural border and encounters the other in a foreign country. Being a stranger, the traveller receives the host’s assistance, gift and hospitality. Accordingly, the interaction between the traveller and the host becomes the major factor of the significance of the journey. This host-guest relationship finds a sophisticated case in E. M. Forster’s travel narrative, A Passage to India (1924), which the present essay explores with Jacques Derrida’s theory of hospitality. Derrida’s concern with hospitality comes from Kant’s universal hospitality, which Derrida characterizes as “conditional” for it is “dependent on and controlled by the law and the state police.” For Derrida, the real hospitality is “unconditional hospitality,” which requires the host open up his/her home to welcome the “absolute, unknown, anonymous other.” In the light of Derrida’s theory, the present essay argues that in A Passage to India, there are three invitations and two visitations respectively embodying conditional hospitality and unconditional hospitality. Together they help focus on and reveal the novel’s political/religious concerns, connecting the three major parts of the novel (Mosque [Islam], Caves [Christianity] and Temple [Hinduism]) into a complete structure. On top of all these, the present essay argues that by presenting hospitality and the host-guest relationship, it becomes clear that the English hopes for a “more lasting home” in India fail. And consequently, the three invitations and the two visitations make the involved characters im/possible hosts and guests

Topics: host-guest, Jacques Derrida, hospitality, travel, invitation, visitation
Publisher: 臺中市:國立中興大學外國語文學系
Year: 2014
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